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Salt : Grain of Life
cookbook reviewssalt : grain of life
Salt : Grain of Life
(Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
Author: Pierre Laszlo, Mary Beth Mader (Translator)

Reviewed By: Chef Joe George

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Pierre Laszlo's book, Salt/Grain of Life, is an interesting and well-written book. At once the reader is able to detect the author's own personal interest in the subject. It is a very well researched book. Salt/Grain of life is a virtual compendium on the subject. (Did you know, for example, that salt was used as a form of payment during the Roman Empire, and that the English word salary is based on the Roman word for salt, salarium?)

Written in the form of a compilation of vignettes-short stories, almost-Salt is an easy and captivating book to read. This is not a cookbook per se (there are no recipes), but it will inspire you-not necessarily with an excessive use of salt, but more so with an overall appreciation of it. The book is divided into seven chapters: Salt Cured Foods, Nomads, Harvesting, Abuse of Power, Biology, Other Science Insights, and Myths. And within each chapter there are a series of short stories that carry an amazing amount of information. In the first chapter, for example-Salt Cured Foods-the author discusses the importance of salt in foods not just as a preservative prior to refrigeration, but also as an ingredient in the actual making of specific foods, such as sausages, cheeses, caviar, and salt cod. In chapter two-Nomads-he informs the reader of the importance of salt in a person's diet, and how salt, or more specifically access to it, actually dictated the routes that nomads have traveled for centuries. The remaining chapters take the reader through a myriad of information, including the harvesting (mining) of salt, the effect salt has had on past and currant civilizations (sodium chloride is a main component of vinyl, for instance, and its invention has changed modern life forever), and even the origin of the Morton Salt logo.

If you are a culinarian with a special interest in the history and culture of foods, professional or not, Salt/Grain of life is a must read. You will no doubt find the social, historical, and anthropological information fascinating.

Pierre Laszlo is an emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Liège, Belgium, and the École polytechnique, near Paris. Salt/Grain of life is one of six of his many published works that have been translated into English.

April 2002

Chef Joe George writes for

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